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Full text of "The Discovery Of The Child"

296               THE DISCOVERY OF THE CHILD

nucleus of our library. Turning over the leaves of these books of
simple stories, I realized that the little ones would not be able to
understand them. The teachers, however, wanted to prove that
they could, by making several children read, telling me that their
reading was much more fluent and more correct than that of
children who had finished the second elementary class. I did not
allow myself to be convinced, and I applied two tests. The first
was to get the mistress to tell some of the stories, and to notice
how many children interested themselves voluntarily. After a few
words the children's attention wandered; the mistress had to recall
the inattentive ones to order and she was using old methods
encouraging the children to understand. Little by little there
developed in the class noise and movement, which were due to
the fact that each individual was turning to his usual occupations
.and giving up listening.

Evidently the children who seemed to be reading the books
with pleasure were not enjoying the meaning of them. They were
enjoying the mechanical power which they had acquired, consisting
of the translation of written signs into the sound of a word which
they recognized. In fact they were reading the books with much
less readiness than the cards, because in them they met with many
unknown words.

My second test was to get the child to read the book without
giving him the explanations which the mistress in the old fashion
hastened to interpose, mixing them up with suggestive questions
"Have you understood?" "What have you read?" "The
child went in a carriage, did he not?" "Read carefully."
** Watch."

I then gave the book to a child, placed myself beside him in
an affectionately confidential attitude, and asked him with the
simple gravity with which I would have spoken to a friend: " Did
you understand what you read?" The child answered, "No,"
but the expression on his face seemed to ask for an explanation
of my question because he did not understand what was meant
by * reading'. The fact is that reading is not to read a series of